Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Summer Solstice Soiree

Ah, yes. The first day of summer. And what better way to celebrate the solstice than by attending a quarterly gathering of tremendously imaginative people who come together four times a year as the seasons change to present their latest projects and subject their work to critique and suggestions from their peers. The assembly isn’t limited to any particular medium, art form or subject, though the group was originally started by architects in Baltimore, Maryland, who sought a venue outside their own offices to present their latest designs; a place to bounce ideas off of like-minded artisans. The core members, who maintain a Facebook page and a website coordinated by communications professional Cheryl Tussing, make the get-together available to anyone who wants to present their work (

My Vidalia onion dip with paprika-spiked
crudites was a big hit with the guests
The location varies, too. On the Autumnal equinox two Septembers ago, when I hosted the soiree at my rustic farmhouse in rural Baltimore County, I "presented" a new walk-in closet I designed and converted from a spare bedroom (Closet Conversion). Over the years the soiree has featured such diverse talent as a designer of gorgeous hair accessories ( and the Baltimore Rock Opera Society ( in addition, of course, to a core collection of architects and graphic designers whose latest works never fail to thrill and inspire.

This past Friday night’s summer solstice soiree was hosted by Jesse Turner, a purveyor of lighting design, interior planning and construction management whose main focus is building incredibly intricate scale models of architectural projects big and small, retail and corporate, residential and recreational. In the historic Meadow Mill section of Baltimore City, Jesse’s Lighting, Interior Design & Construction Management company ( is nestled in a corner of an old grainery, its twin metal silos still gracing one end of the stone building.

Sharing the vast warehouse space are three separate woodworking entrepreneurs, all friends of Jesse’s from the days, thirty years ago, when he, too owned a woodworking company, and a potter whose functional and decorative clay works could be seen neatly arrayed on shelves as we entered through the building’s loading dock and walked through the cavernous space to LIDCM headquarters at the back.

Jesse Turner describes his passion for architectural model-
making before leading visitors on a tour of his studio
The first day of summer was hot, hot, hot, and this was an ancient building with no air conditioning. I had offered to assist Jesse in setting up and serving light refreshments, typically offered by whomever is hosting the event. Choosing my attire as much for coolness as for fashion, I had selected a cotton sarong with a high-low hemline in a dramatic batik of ochre loops on a deep red and black ground with golden embroidery outlining the sweeping coils.

With its halter-style ties at the neck and smartly smocked bodice, the simple summer dress, by Advance Apparels, was a cool counterpoint to the sultry evening temperature. I was lucky to have found the shift at my local farmers market a few weeks prior.  Paired with low-heeled sandals by Limited Collection that I picked up in Ireland last summer and fun costume jewelry intended to commemorate the halfway point in the year of the snake, I was ready to transform a corner of this rough hewn space into a venue suitable for a gathering of artisans and appetizers.

This 1/16th scale model of a shopping
center in Ohio features lifelike buildings
which are lighted from within
A large piece of sturdy foam core laid across two industrial-strength saw-horses formed a "table" on which I set a platter of raw crudités I had treated with smoked paprika, lime zest and other spices, surrounding a bowl of dip made with fresh Vidalia onions I had caramelized the evening before. Beside the crisp veggies I set a hollowed bread bowl filled with homemade spinach dip, around which I piled cubes from a garlic-encrusted loaf. After filling a tub with ice to chill wine and beer, I busied myself arranging chairs in front of a large computer screen on which some of the artists would be presenting their work.

Urban planner Craig Purcell displayed
his colorful abstract paintings
With glasses of wine and plates of food in hand, more than twenty people gathered around the host as he introduced himself and described his love of model-making. Jesse gave the visitors a short tour of his studio, which featured his latest work, a 1/16th scale model of Liberty Town Shopping Center, freshly back from its star turn at the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) annual convention in Las Vegas, where it garnered comments from clients and attendees alike as "best model at the show".

Harrison Demchick read
from his novel
Once a circuit of the design space was concluded, Jesse’s guests took their seats in front of the computer’s monitor, and other artists who had signed up to present projects took their turns. One of Jesse’s employees, the talented Jen Herchenroeder, showed a collection of her illustrations and graphic art, followed by architect Craig Purcell, who presented abstract paintings he takes great delight in creating after long days spent within the gridded confines of urban planning. A budding author, Harrison Demchick, read aloud from his latest book, The Listeners, published by Bancroft Press, after which Ed Mormile displayed images of photographs and artwork he offers for sale on his website Designer Kevin Fitzgerald rounded out the evening with an inspired lamp design, a prototype of which he had recently received from China.

Kevin Fitzgerald showed
off his bamboo lamp
There is no shortage of amazing creativity in this world, and I am humbled by the talent and vision demonstrated at each turn of the seasons right here in my own little corner of the planet. The solstice soiree was an exciting way to celebrate the first day of summer 2013.

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